Project reviews

The Missouri-Kansas Conflict

Out of the list of Rosenzweig Prize Recipients, I looked at the Civil War on the Western Border website. Overall, I really liked the appearance of the site. One specific aspect of it that I really appreciated was the map; it’s a very intuitive way, of course, to convey this particular subject, but I felt that looking at the wider context of location and being able to examine a battle in more detail and see sources about it was one very effective way of organizing information offered by the site. The Lesson Plans tab is also a useful resource, one that it would make sense for a digital history project to offer. One thing that I didn’t find fully worked for me was the timeline. It contains a lot of interesting information, and I appreciated the categories, which were easy to keep track of. On a visual level, though, I felt that it just didn’t come across as effectively as the examples we looked at in class.

Gilded Age Murder

I then looked at Gilded Age Plains City. I was impressed with the map on this project, which offered an immersive and informative look into the spacial setting the project intended to convey. I also noticed that this project relied more heavily than others I’d seen on long, uninterrupted blocks of text to convey both the historical narrative and its interpretation. Obviously all historical narrative relies heavily on writing, but I do wonder if digital history projects (like other aspects of the Internet) have shied away to a degree from long blocks of text without visual aids as time went on, or if it’s purely a question of audience and personal choice. One thing I found odd about the project is that, though it does link to its document archive, it doesn’t give the archive the level of prominence it grants to the map or the interpretive sources, and I found this to be an odd choice. Digitized primary sources, ones I’d be unlikely to ever encounter if it weren’t for digital history as a field, are some of the most exciting things about these projects to me, so I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be easily viewable.

The Emilie Davis Diaries

I then looked at Villanova University’s digitization of the Emilie Davis Diaries, which was probably my favorite of the projects I looked at. I loved how readable and navigable the site was, how well it was designed, and the fact that a transcript of the diary could easily be read page-by-page, displayed alongside a digitization of the original document. The transcription also features annotations that the reader can click in and out of, and there’s also a tag cloud at the bottom displaying particular topics the reader can look at. Interestingly, comments appear to be enabled on the individual diary pages, though I don’t think they’re currently viewable. I think this site is interesting as an example of a digital history project with a very specific focus, that of a series of specific documents pertaining to one person. It’s therefore worth it to contrast it with digital history projects that aim to cover an event and the variety of sources that pertain to it, and how each then chooses to display their content.

Mapping Early American Elections

Finally, I looked at Mapping Early American Elections, which was reviewed in the most recent edition of the Journal of American History. What first stuck out to me about this project was that it’s one of the first digital history projects I’ve seen where the general look of the site doesn’t try to aim towards a ‘historical’ aesthetic. It makes me wonder if the aim to evoke a historical look has declined to some extent, concurrently with the present trend towards minimalism in site design. With that said, design-wise the project has a very eye-catching and distinctive color palette. The maps are well-organized and easy to interpret, and the sidebar features resources for looking over the resources the project provides, as well as tutorials for providing resources of that sort. In terms of drawbacks, I wish the designers of the site had found a more creative way to display and organize their information than the bulleted list the site actually contains.

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